As I am sure you know by now, a lot of the parties going on in the Hamptons and everywhere else on the planet last July 4th were not just get drunk and be merry affairs, they were, well, a lot of them were, to celebrate the proof of the existence of the Higgs boson. The announcement of it was broadcast by scientists in Geneva, Switzerland at 7 p.m. their time. It flashed around the world. And whatever time it was at 7 p.m. in Geneva, (it was 1 a.m. at the Aspen Center for Physics in Colorado), that’s when the Champagne bottles were uncorked.
The Higgs boson! Finally!
Of course, you may have missed out on it that night, and though you may have read about it or heard about it online or in the social media in the morning, you still may not be sure exactly of what it is all about.
So I thought I would explain it to you.
Scientists have known for almost 50 years that everything in nature exists as one of four fundamental forces. One of them, electromagnetism, was proven with a mathematical theory around 1960. Later, within the decade, two other of the other four were proven with mathematical theories. But that is as far as it went. Furthermore, it was found through some mathematical formulas that two of the four forces seemed to be related in some way. One was the aforementioned electromagnetism. The other was the weak force. This seemed odd because electromagnetism is made up of photon particles, which have no measureable mass, while the Weak Force is made up of molecules that have a huge amount of mass, comparatively. How could this be?
An English scientist named Peter Higgs theorized in 1964 that if two were somehow related, perhaps there was something entirely separate that was linking them, and if it were, then this would be something entirely new, a sort of background field, which probably would link all of the particles in nature. Higgs wrote up some mathematical formulas and after awhile concluded that everything could be linked and explained with just one mathematical formula—if only it were possible to prove that this linking background field were real.
Apparently, and this part of the story I do not fully understand, this background field is always associated with a separate and distinctly identifiable and unique particle of it’s own. If such a particle could be seen somehow, or made to make an appearance in some way, it would prove the truth of this theory. Thus began the search for Higgs boson.
I should stop and say at this point that a good way to think about this is to think about sticky rice. You use chopsticks to pick up sticky rice. It sticks to the chopsticks. Regular rice does not stick to chopsticks. So there is something in there that you add to make regular rice sticky. Whatever that stuff is, is what everybody was looking for. It could come from a salt shaker, it could come sprinkled out from a bottle. Only the Chinese would know for sure. And they weren’t telling.
So scientists theorized that, using the rice analogy, if there was something sticky in the universe, maybe if they hit it hard enough with a spatula, some of it would leap out. Well, they didn’t use the sticky rice analogy. But they did say that maybe they could smack the background field really hard and get a Higgs boson to jump out.
So, around 2000, scientists built a giant particle accelerator on Long Island at Brookhaven to try to bang two protons together to make a Higgs boson jump out. The mathematics said it should work, but it didn’t. They weren’t hitting the background field hard enough. (If you’re not getting anywhere thinking about the sticky rice analogy, try thinking about a hitting a rug on a clothesline with a tennis racket and see what comes off analogy.)
At this point, since the Higgs boson didn’t show up in Brookhaven, Higgs and others went back to the drawing board and said they would add a zero to something. You’d need to hit it harder.
And so, about 30 years ago, the United States proposed to build an absolutely mammoth atom accelerator in a tunnel in one of the wasteland areas of Texas. It would cost over $10 billion dollars. But it should get a Higgs boson particle, if there was a Higgs boson particle, to jump off with that amount of smack. Congress decided in 1993, much to the disappointment of the residents of Texas, not to do it.
But then the Europeans took an interest in this, and they built one the size of the one that would have been in Texas, and it opened a year ago. It’s an enormous underground tunnel, 17 miles in radius, partly in Switzerland and partly in France right on the border there. During this last year they fiddled with the dials with it, and they made a preliminary group of tests. Then they turned it up to full power, it began to hum, the scientists released two protons going in opposite directions around the tunnel and in just a nano second, twelve miles away, they hit each other, SMACK. And there they were. A bunch of Higgs bosons, arcing away from where the explosion took place.
So that’s it. Think of it like the fleas on a dog, or the sand in your shoes. We knew it was there. We couldn’t see it. We smacked the hell out of it. And there were a bunch of it, streaking away from where it got hit.
Thus, we did it! Humans have figured out how everything works together. It’s the cream in the coffee, the starch on the shirt, the peanut butter that keeps all the bread together. And, as a matter of fact, the more Higgs bosons there are around in a particular location, the heavier something brought over to it appears. It’s like swimming in molasses when you have it, so everything appears heavy. Or it’s like things are weightless when the background field is bereft of Higgs bosons. There you are! (Clink!) Our scientists figured it out!
How can we possibly make use of the Higgs boson? Will it cure cancer? Will it prove the existence of other universes? One thing I predict is it will play a huge role in the field of human weight loss programs. Just remember. You read it first in Dan’s Papers.
And as far as we are concerned, if Peter Higgs wants to stop by our office to fly a kite in the Dan’s Papers Kite Fly competition, or to run the 5k PotatoHampton or eat his fill at the Dan’s Taste of Two Forks next year, he’ll get a ticket from us for free.
That’s what kind of stuck together people we are.